Kapala Kundala

Kapala Kundala

- March 23, 2023


By Srinidhi Murthy

Did you know Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was only twenty-eight years old when he wrote his second Bengali novel, Kapala Kundala? It is considered one of his finest works. Since its publication, Kapala Kundala has been translated into various languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Sanskrit, and German. 

Synopsis 

Kapala Kundala is set during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. A boat, returning from a pilgrimage, loses its way and seeks refuge at a strange island. When the fog clears, the boat sets sail again, abandoning a passenger named Navakumar on the island. There, he meets a kapalik, a devotee of Goddess Kali, and a young maiden, Kapala Kundala. How these meetings change the lives of Navakumar, Kapala Kundala and the kapalik forms the rest of the story. 

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Themes involved 

Human Sacrifice 

Navakumar first meets the kapalik while looking for shelter on the island. The kapalik offers his cottage as shelter, and food to Navakumar that night. The next day, when Navakumar asks the kapalik to help him to return home, the kapalik asks Navakumar to follow him. On their way through the forest, a beautiful young woman named Kapala Kundala emerges from between the trees and warns Navakumar that the kapalik plans to sacrifice him to Goddess Kali. When Navakumar refuses to go with the kapalik, he is forcefully dragged to the place of sacrifice. Chatterjee sheds light on the kapalika tradition, where a kapalik performs human sacrifice to please Goddess Kali. When Kapala Kundala, the foster daughter of the kapalik, saves Navakumar, the kapalik becomes enraged at his daughter for interfering with his sacrifice and vows revenge. 

Script: Debrani Mitra; Illustration: Souren Roy

Religion and Revenge 

Navakumar was married to a girl named Padmavati when they were both still children. When Padmavati’s father converted to Islam, Navakumar’s father spurned Padmavati and refused to acknowledge her marriage to his son.  Padmavati later changes her name to Mati Bibi and meets Navakumar, after the events of the island have taken place. When she tells him about their childhood marriage, Navakumar refuses to accept her as his wife since he is now married to Kapala Kundala. Mati Bibi then disguises herself as a man and decides to get revenge on Kapala Kundala. Through Mati Bibi, the writer shows how misplaced anger can make people take drastic decisions that ruin their lives. Since childhood, Mati Bibi had seen Navakumar as her husband. Thus, when unfortunate circumstances separated them, she was unable to move on from her feelings and directed her anger towards Navakumar’s wife, who had played no part in her suffering.  

Script: Debrani Mitra; Illustration: Souren Roy

Marriage and Trust 

In ancient times, a women’s name was changed by her in-laws after marriage. This practice is still prevalent in some parts of the nation. In this story, the writer highlights this practice as Kapala Kundala’s name is changed to Mrinmayee after her marriage to Navakumar. The writer also shows the importance of trust in a marriage. Navakumar sees Kapala Kundala with Mati Bibi, who is disguised as a man, at midnight in the forest. He grows enraged and his distrust is further fuelled by the kapalik, who convinces Navakumar to sacrifice Kapala Kundala to Kali for her unfaithfulness. Blinded by his anger, Navakumar is quick to agree. It is only when he confronts Kapala Kundala that he remembers this is the girl who saved his life and that it was foolish to trust the kapalik over his  wife. This realisation rebuilds Navakumar’s trust, which not only saves his marriage but also Kapala Kundala’s life. 

Script: Debrani Mitra; Illustration: Souren Roy
Adaptations 

Kapala Kundala was adapted into four Bengali films of the same name in 1929, 1933, 1952, and 1981. It was also adapted into a Hindi movie in 1939 and a television series that aired on DD National. The novel was also adapted by Amar Chitra Katha as a comic, written by Debrani Mitra. 

Read the entire story of Kapala Kundala on the ACK Comics app!

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Comic of The Month

Rabindranath Tagore

He rejected formal education and yet began a world-famous university. His poems were mocked for their colloquial language but they were adopted as anthems by two countries. Bengali society despaired of him until he was awarded the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature and a knighthood. Rabindranath Tagore, whose multi-faceted life was as fascinating as it is inspiring, lived on in his books, his music and his thought-provoking, unconventional ideals.

20 Minute Read